Category: Technology (page 1 of 3)

A $12 Billion Startup Believes It Can “Cure” Aging

Samumed has been raising huge amounts of cash on the hopes that its technology can reverse a whole host of age-related conditions including baldness, wrinkles, and even worn-down joints. The company’s $12 billion valuation is one of the highest on the planet for a private biotech company, with their “fountain of youth” promise proving to be a very popular one. It’s hardly surprising though that a technology that might be able to deliver new approaches to treat the effects of aging would be an investor magnet – if the tech really works, the company is sure to deliver some massive returns. There is however plenty of skepticism, with a long list of drugs in the pipeline but not a single one yet on the market. Anything that they end up hoping to bring to the public will also need FDA approval. Samumed’s first drugs are targeted at specific organ systems. One aims to regrow hair in bald men. The same drug may also turn gray hair back to its original color, and a cosmetic version could erase wrinkles. A second drug seeks to regenerate cartilage in arthritic knees. Additional medicines in early human studies aim to repair degenerated discs in the spine, remove scarring in the lungs and treat cancers. The firm’s focus, disease by disease, symptom by symptom, is to make the cells of aging people regenerate as powerfully as those of a developing fetus. This is done by triggering something called progenitor stem cells. CEO Osman Kibar explains these cells are in charge of repairing and replenishing specific organs in the body. “For example, a mesenchymal stem cell of the osteoblast lineage can go in and repair bone that’s damaged.” The company’s treatments manipulate the WNT pathway, a set of proteins that tell these stem cells to spring into action. Kibar says these WNT levels get out of balance as we age. By successfully manipulating the WNT pathway, Samumed hopes to reverse various conditions or even prevent some diseases from occurring to begin with. Samumed has seven drugs in human clinical trials up to phase two and plans to be in 10 disease areas by the end of 2017. The one nearest to getting to a phase-three trial treats osteoarthritis by regenerating cartilage. If it proves successful, it will be the first treatment ever capable of regrowing cartilage. The company has a distinct lack of healthcare specialist investors, though, which has led to perhaps even greater skepticism. That doubt has been somewhat amplified since the Theranos scandal, the blood testing company that raised $725 million and had a $9 billion valuation before The Wall Street Journal published an investigation that questioned the accuracy of those tests and led to its labs getting shut down. Like Theranos, Samumed has kept the details of its technology a very tightly-held secret. Kibar says they will be publishing later-stage trial data in academic journals, saying they are willing to provide proof that it does work. “How it works,” says Kibar, “you just need to wait a little longer, because we want to build as much a head start as we can.” Personally, I’ve learned some very valuable lesson investing in the health and bio-med space. I’ve learned that I’ve never heard a bad story or one that I didn’t think would help the world or mankind. The problem is there’s a lot more involved in being a profitable business than just “the story”, being a company that returns gains on investments to shareholders is an extremely challenging hurdle, especially with technology so rapidly advancing in this space. There are definitely some huge home runs that can be hit in this sector, but I’ve learned I’m just not a disciplined enough hitter in this space to know what pitches to swing at. In other words I can’t tell if it‘s a fastball or curve-ball when it leaves the pitchers hand, therefore I’ll strike out twenty times in a row before I put the bat on the ball. I just don’t want to battle that psychology in an environment that’s been offering up such easy layups in other areas. (Sources: Business Insider, Forbes)

Could This Be A New System For Feeding Livestock?

California agricultural tech company Fodderworks – a division of Simply Country Inc. has created a fully automated robotic fodder-growing system that can produce daily quantities of fresh, non-genetically-modified food for livestock. With the goal being to save time, space, money and natural resources the system uses vertical farming techniques to produce sprouts – known as fodder when fed to livestock. Vertical farming is nothing new for the production of food for human consumption but the California based company believes along with the almost 10 billion humans to be fed by the year 2050, there will be many more livestock to feed as well and possibly less usable land. The process used to grow the fodder is simple, cheap and highly efficient. Grains are spread out on trays, the trays are stacked on shelves, and the trays washed in light and water from overhead lamps and sprayers. By the sixth day, the trays are each filled with a mat of bright green sprouts. The mats are then hauled off straight to the feedlot . No extra fertilizers. No pesticides. Barley seems to be the sprout of choice to replace or at a minimum be served alongside the traditional dry feed. Barley is not only deemed one of the highest in nutritional value but is readily available being that it is used in the brewing of beer. The innovation will allow farms choosing to adopt the Robotic method to save thousands of dollars over time when compared to the large labor force required to grow and deliver the sprouts. Critics of automation which puts humans out of work feel this is another example of the after effect of innovation. Fodderworks General Manager Kyle Chittock does not agree with this assessment as he states this type of production has never been done before. He believes the automated robot allows their customers to focus more on growing their businesses instead of being concerned about making feed. “The largest system we’ve installed, that’s manually operated, is out there producing five tons a day , but at that scale there’s a lot of labor involved. If you take the average dairy in California, they have over a thousand cows, and they don’t want to have to hire a bunch of people just to produce feed. That’s not what they want to focus their time and energy on.” Chittock goes on to say that by using their automated system of vertical farming, many jobs are created as a result of the resourcing and production of their equipment. As I have stated many times, you don’t have to use all the latest technology making its way into the ag space, but you better know it’s coming and determine if it can make your operation more efficient! Watch a video of Fodderworks in action by clicking HERE. (Source: Motherboard).

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Bridgewater Is Trying To Take The “Human” Out Of Management Decisions

Algorithms have played an increasingly important role at many big trading firms over the past few years. The world’s largest hedge-fund is taking the technology to the next level though, developing a system that automates the firm’s management. Bridgewater is basing the system on founder Ray Dalio’s management philosophy and hopes to take the “emotional volatility” out of ever day decision making, which would include hiring, promotions and settling disagreements. Bridgewater put together a team of programmers that specialize in analytics and artificial intelligence back in 2015, which is headed up be David Ferrucci, former lead developer of IBM’s supercomputer Watson. The division, called the Systemized Intelligence Lab, has already rolled out some of the tools that will be incorporated into the final system. For example, meetings are recorded and employees are expected to rate their counterparts throughout the day. The rankings show up on what are called “Baseball Cards” which show an employees strengths and weaknesses based on their individual dot rankings. The overall system will be called PriOS and Dalio wants it to be responsible for full three-quarters of management decisions within the next five years. Those decisions are based on Dalio’s own philosophy, which in theory guarantees that the company will still be run according to his vision whether he is around or not. The Wall Street Journal says the system will dole out “GPS-style directions for how staff members should spend every aspect of their days, down to whether an employee should make a particular phone call.” That might seem a bit of an overreach, but consider this – Bridgewater manages more money than any hedge-fund in the world and has earned its customers twice as much as any of its rivals. Dalio’s approach may be unorthodox, but there is no denying that his way of doing things has made him and his firm incredibly successful. The Bridgewater rule book is known as the “Principles”, in which Dalio himself expresses his opinion that successful managers “design a ‘machine’ consisting of the right people doing the right things to get what they want.” Dalio’s vision is for PriOS to be that most efficient of machines, freeing management from “mundane” decision making that a computer may be as good – or better – suited. Bridgewater’s ultimate goal for its system is pretty ambitious, but this may be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to replacing middle-management positions with artificial intelligence systems. Devin Fidler, research director at the Institute For The Future, is a lead developer of their prototype management system called iCEO. He explains that a lot of management is basically just the sorting of information, something software can be much more efficient at than humans. Automated decision-making is highly appealing to businesses as it saves time and strips out emotional volatility. A research report from Accenture highlighted this, showing managers across a wide range of businesses believe AI will ultimately prove to be cheaper and more efficient. However, that doesn’t mean that human managers will become obsolete – “It just means that their jobs will change to focus on things only humans can do.” (Source: The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian)

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Supersonic Passenger Aircraft… From New York to London in 3.5 Hours!

Want to get to London in less than four hours? Virgin mogul Sir Richard Branson is one step to closer to bringing the next generation of Concorde-style jet engines to the masses — or at least travelers who can afford a $5,000 ticket. Branson and Denver-based Boom Technology has recently unveiled a new prototype for a supersonic passenger jet that can take passengers from New York to London in just 3.5 hours according to reports. Through Virgin Galactic’s manufacturing arm, the Spaceship Company, we will provide engineering and manufacturing services, along with test support and operations as part of the agreement. Black Scholl, Boom’s founder and CEO (who happens to be a former pilot and executive) is ready to bring supersonic jet travel back into the mainstream. Test flights will begin next year in southern California with plans to launch the first commercial departures in 2023. He also said he’s confident that these flights will be different than the Concorde due to advances in technology and lighter materials. The company plans on fabricating the planes with lightweight carbon fiber composites — which it says makes it a quieter and more fuel-efficient jet. The XB-1, nicknamed the “Baby Boom”, has a cruising speed of Mach 2.2 — 1,451 miles per hour — which is 10% faster than the Concorde’s previous speed of Mach 2. It’s also 2.6 times faster than the average commercial airliner. At $5,000, tickets on the Baby Boom jet would cost about the same as tickets in business class. So, maybe you won’t get free champagne, but you will get there in half the time. Understand, supersonic flight has already been done. Remember the Concorde? The spectacular failure that lasted nearly three decades flew travelers across the Atlantic in three hours and 30 minutes for about $20,000 a ticket. But after years of losing money due to low production and high fuel costs, plus the industry downturn post 9/11, the Concord was mothballed in 2003. That was then, but Boom is now. With 50 years of advancements since the Concorde, Boom benefited from engine advances and other technology improvements, including fuel improvements. The Baby Boom is expected to have around 50 seats, whereas the Concorde had 92 to 128. boom says it plans to initially fly from London to New York, San Francisco to Tokyo and Los Angeles to Sydney. As far as how much investment Boom has received, Scholl won’t say. But partners include Virgin Galactic, which has already reserved the first 10 airplanes produced — at $200 million each. (Source: DenverPost)

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Human-Pig Embryos Create Opportunities and Controversies

Internet searches for the word “chimera” have spiked the past few days on news that scientists had successfully combined the DNA of two disparate species into one viable embryo. The resulting embryo, called a “chimera,” lived to four weeks and represents a huge step for those with the goal of growing replacement human organs in the lab. The ultimate hope for this advancement lies in providing an unlimited source of human organs for those in need. Perhaps being able to grow a human organ inside a lab animal who simply acts as a host might eventually be of some merit. I’ve personally been against all of this most of my life, but perhaps this new technology and way they are now going about it is worthy of reconsideration. In case you didn’t know, scientists have been attempting for several years to grow the organs of one animal inside the body of another. This time around it might be a bit different… Creating the chimeric embryos takes two stages: First, CRISPR gene editing is used to remove DNA from a newly fertilized pig embryo that would enable the resulting fetus to grow a pancreas. This creates a genetic void. Then secondly, human stem cells are injected into the embryo. To be clear, the stem cells were derived from adult cells. Not embryonic. Again, adult tissue is used to get adult stem cells. From here, the human embryo should fill the genetic void left by CRISPR gene editing and allow it to grow a human pancreas. The embryo is implanted into the sow and allowed to develop to 28 days. It is hoped that the resulting pig fetus will have a human pancreas. From there the hopes is the same technique could be used to grow other human organs. Understand, they haven’t created a full human pancreas in a pig. But it is the first time that human cells have grown inside a different species. It’s also important to know that the development of the pig chimeras was stopped after four weeks in the womb, so the fetuses aren’t taken to full term. These are experiments that prove, in principle, that it can be possible to grow human tissue in a completely different species. From what I’m understanding, scientist would ultimately like to take stem cells from a patient needing a transplant, let’s say a liver, inject them into a pig embryo which had the key genes deleted for creating a liver, add in the new, with the resulting organ being an exact genetic copy of the liver needed, just simply a much younger and healthier version. As I can imagine, “attempting to duplicate nature is not an easy endeavor,” said Dr. Jun Wu, a staff scientist in the gene expression laboratory at the Salk Institute and first author of the research, “species evolve independently, and many factors dictating the developmental programs might have diverged, which makes it difficult to blend cells from one species to a developing embryo from another.” Wu also said, “The larger the evolutionary distance, the more difficult for them to mix.” In the past, human-animal chimeras have been beyond reach. Such experiments are currently ineligible for public funding here in the United States, so the Salk team has had to rely on private donors for their chimera project. Public opinion has also hampered the creation of organisms that are part human, part animal. Ethical concerns lead the outcry from most opponents, “In particular, people were concerned about human cells populating the brain of the animal or the germline of the animal,” said Carrie D. Wolinetz, the institutes’ associate director for science policy. In the first case, the animal might be humanized; in the second case, the animal might pass human genes on to its offspring. The is certainly going to be a tough debate moving forward and one I suspect gets extremely heated. On the flip side, data shows that every ten minutes a person is added to the “wait list” and every day twenty-two new individuals die while waiting for the organ they are in need of. Again, the goal of the project is that one-day human done organs can be more readily available for all patients in need. (CNN, Merriam-Webster).

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This undated photo provided by the Salk Institute on Jan. 24, 2017 shows a 4-week-old pig embryo which had been injected with human stem cells. The experiment was a very early step toward the possibility of growing human organs inside animals for transplantation. (Salk Institute via AP)

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